Perspectives in Architecture: Renovation of Fountain Hall represents Morris Brown perseverance

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Morris Brown College is entering a new chapter in its distinguished history. President Kevin James has rallied alumni and supporters for a hard reset of policies and procedures to ensure the institution’s accreditation, financial stability, and governance. He expects the college established in 1881 as the first institution of higher learning in Georgia for black people to become the first HBCU that regains full accreditation in April 2021. Accreditation will enable students to receive federal aid for college tuition and further increase student enrollment.

Fountain (Stone) Hall offers historically and civically significant space to meet expansion needs. A prominent architect in the Southeast and Founder of the Southern Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), Atlanta architect Gottfried L Norrman (1848-1909) designed the landmark listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This impressive three-story building completed in 1882 by emancipated blacks embodies the popular High Victorian architecture of its time with a hipped roof, elaborate brick detailing, and prominent clock tower.

Morris Brown students passed a sweeping archway at the entry and an immense mural in the lobby to reach administrative offices, classrooms, laboratories, a chapel, and library. One of those offices belonged to renowned civil rights activist, historian, and educator W. E. B. Du Bois from 1897 to 1910. Students affirmed their Christian faith, rejoiced with community programs, and married in the chapel animated with stained glass windows. Sounds rung throughout the campus from a huge bell in the tower inscribed with the words “Dedicated to the Education of Youth, Without Regard to Sex, Race or Color.”

Working with Dr. Candy Tate from the Atlanta Branch of ASALH, Morris Brown College is committed to restore this historic landmark. School leaders are undeterred by acts of vandalism at the building, including removal of a clock face on the tower in late 2020. President James explains, “Fountain Hall represents the strength and perseverance of Morris Brown College.”  In recent years, the college has been awarded over $1 million in national grants, critical funding to replace the slate roof and renovate the clock tower. More extensive renovations are required to conduct classes in the building.

To support future renovations, the college has hired architectural firm Moody Nolan to create conceptual drawings and renderings of the building. Moody Nolan recently received the 2021 AIA Architecture Firm Award, the highest award that the Institute bestows to a firm, for brilliant designs and transformative impact in communities. Firm Senior Associate Linda Nunnelly expresses reverence for Fountain Hall noting “the great story and historical significance of this project.” During a pivotal time for the school as it collaborates with Moody Nolan, Morris Brown College pursues academic and architectural design excellence.

Melody L. Harclerode, FAIA enjoys connecting the public to wondrous places as an award-winning architect, author, and Executive Director of Blue Heron Nature Preserve in Atlanta.